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The Zacchaeus Principle

“Do not store up treasures for yourself on the earth where moth and rust can destroy and where thieves can break in and steal it. Store up treasure for yourself in heaven where neither moth nor rust can destroy and where thieves can not break in and steal it. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

(Matthew 6:19-21)

In speaking about treasure or wealth being stored up in heaven, it is often assumed that one must become like the rich young ruler and give away all he or she has to the poor and go into a life of humble and impoverished service. It is fair that some people are called to such a lifestyle. The rich young ruler is the prime example of this but also people like Joseph Scriven, John Wesley, and John Wycliffe come to mind. These people chose to live lives of poverty and service to build the kingdom of heaven and God chose to bless their labors.

But then there was also Zacchaeus — mentioned in Luke’s Gospel shortly after the account of the rich young ruler. Never does Jesus ask Zacchaeus to sell all he has and give it to the poor. Zacchaeus simply is asked to repay that which he has defrauded others. Why this difference? The difference is found once again in the account of the rich young ruler — that man loved his money and the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). The heart of Zacchaeus is clearly in a different place.

The assumption that is often made is that when people speak of storing up treasure in heaven and of using wealth to build Christ’s kingdom and not a personal earthly kingdom, is that then one must give up all the wealth they have and donate it to various charities or missionaries. And friends, if that is what God is calling you to do, then praise the Lord and I would be happy to suggest some missional works that are worthy of your support. That we might call the rich young ruler model.

But might there be a Zacchaeus model as well? Indeed, there must be given that Jesus seems to do so. One might also note that there have been many people that God has blessed with worldly resources to the end that they might focus on building the kingdom with their very special gifts. John Calvin, for instance, it is often pointed out, had financial wealth at his disposal. He lived modestly and served not only as a pastor, teacher, and reformer, but also produced a wealth of theological resources for which the church is forever indebted. One could say the same thing of someone like John Owen whose collected works are still being read with a great deal of profit by pastors, teachers, and laymen in the church today. Arthur Pink, too, had the resources from his father’s estate, to retreat from public life and give himself entirely to writing. And like Owen and Calvin before him, the church of Jesus Christ is far richer because of those volumes. We might also think of people like Frederick III of Saxony, who used his wealth and influence to protect Martin Luther and thus begin the reformation in Germany. We can go on and on with examples of such, but I think we have enough to establish a Zacchaeus principle.

What does it mean to store up your treasure in heaven? It means to use the wealth and resources you are given to build, sustain, or promote the kingdom of God. If the wealth might go to our heart, we must get rid of it — it will bring sin and destruction. If it can remain outside of our hearts and as a tool that can be used for the glory of God, then we are to use our resources in such a way as to promote Christ’s kingdom. Indeed, in some cases that may be worked out in charity, but in other cases it may provide a platform through which service can be done or God’s people can be sheltered from the storms of persecution. Wealth only destroys us when it finds itself as an object of our love and affection — something that is cherished and held onto at the expense of doing ministry. There are both rich young rulers and Zacchaeus’ all around; if you watch their actions closely, discerning the difference is typically not that hard.

Fear Not, Little Flock!

Have you ever noticed how many times the Bible talks about fear? There is a fear of the Lord, which is the source of wisdom and knowledge—a fear that reflects a holy reverence for who God is. There is also a fear of the world—a fear of going hungry, not having the things we need, or of being persecuted for our faith. This is a fear that we are not to entertain in our lives, for it ruins our witness. The reason we need not fear any of these things is because we have a God in heaven who is sovereign and all-powerful and who loves us with a love that will never be lost or squandered. The pagans do not have a God who will do for them what our God does for us.

There are ramifications of leaving this second kind of fear behind. When you let go of fear and worry you also are left without excuses—you know, those excuses we all use to avoid doing what God has called us to be and to do. Notice what Jesus says immediately after these words:

“Fear not, little flock! For it is the pleasure of your Father to give you the kingdom.”

(Luke 12:32)

In other words, it is the pleasure of God to give us—his church—the kingdom. He will use us to transform the world around us to the glory of Christ Jesus. What a wonderful promise—though we are strong, we are not measured by our size, but by the size of the God who is working through us and dwelling in our hearts.

When we read these words of the Gospel, our heart ought to skip a beat! Is this what God really intends for our little church? The answer that God gives us in an unequivocal, yes! Yet, there is a catch. Jesus also stipulates a means by which he wants us to accomplish this task in the verses that follow:

“Sell your possessions and give benevolences. Make yourselves coin bags that do not wear out and an unfailing treasure in heaven where no thief comes near nor does any moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.”

(Luke 12:33-34)

Note, Jesus is not telling us we must take a vow of poverty—here he does not say, “sell all of your possessions.” The fact that he still calls us to have a money purse is a testimony to that. The key is what we are using those possessions to accomplish. If we pursue possessions to gain more possessions for ourselves, then the possessions become idols and distract us from God’s purpose. If the possessions are but a tool to accomplish the work of the kingdom, then God will bless their use, for your heart will reside with heavenly things, not earthly ones.

So what does this mean for us? It means that our handicap is not our small size as a church and congregation. Our Father will not limit his work based on human considerations. Our handicap is our fear of letting go with the things we treasure on earth—both individually and corporately. Remember, David did not form a committee before he went to fight Goliath—he went in the strength of God and slew him. The God that gave him that boldness is the same God that indwells every believer, there is no reason that we too should not be so bold as to engage the giants of unbelief in our day.